Oklahoma Aquarium unveils its highly anticipated Sea Turtle Island exhibit
JENKS — The Oklahoma Aquarium, one of the state’s top tourist attractions, has made itself an even more desirable destination with the opening of its highly anticipated Sea Turtle Island on Thursday.
Donors and dignitaries gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to unveil the exhibit that features two 300-pound loggerhead sea turtles, reef sharks and tropical fish in a 56,000-gallon tank.
Visitors can observe the wildlife through three different levels, including a unique observation station that gives the effect of being submerged in the tank with the turtles.
The exhibit will serve as an interactive tool to educate the public about the endangered status of the turtles and what can be done to promote the species, even from inland Oklahoma.
“What a great morning in Jenks,” said Jenks Mayor Kelly Dunkerley. “And what an honor it is for me to be here today to celebrate this much-anticipated opening of Sea Turtle Island.
“The citizens of Jenks have always been proud of the Oklahoma Aquarium, but now with this additional facility, we’ve got an even better world-class facility right here on our doorstep.”
Fundraising for the exhibit began eight years ago.
Dunkerley predicted that the $2.9 million invested in the project will drive even more visitors to the popular destination and provide a “huge boost” to the city of Jenks.
“Sea Turtle Island with its educational opportunities is great for all of the schools and school children in our community and a wonderful exhibit for families to experience,” Dunkerley said. “It’s also a catalyst for additional development along our region’s most important natural resource: the Arkansas River.”
Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith also thanked donors and voters for their support in funding the exhibit through private donations and a portion of the city of Jenks’ Vision 2025 funds.
“There is nothing more rewarding than to see projects from the original Vision 2025 come to fruition,” said Keith. “The foresight our county voters had over a decade ago is still paying off today as we reap the benefits of those visionaries.”
Among the first visitors to view the exhibit was a second-grade class from Roy Clark Elementary and a fourth-grade class from Freedom Elementary.
The classes were the winners of Tulsa World’s See the Sea Turtles First competition, where area schools submitted a video of a class project with a sea turtle theme for the opportunity to view the exhibit before it opens to the public on Sunday.
The second-graders donned sandwich boards styled to look like turtle shells with a turtle-themed poem by each student posted on the front of his/her costume.
As soon as the ribbon dropped, several of them hobbled over in their cardboard designs to press their faces against the tank for a better look at the turtles.
One student, Meliza Fuentes, seemed at a loss for words while gazing into the tank.
“Did you know that turtle weighs 300 pounds?” she asked while pointing to one of the loggerhead turtles. “They are amazing.”
The observation station made a big splash with the fourth-graders. Several squeezed in to the spherical enclave for the chance to catch a glimpse at the turtles up close and personal.
“One of the turtles offered our friend, Miley, a high-five!” squealed fourth-grader Evie Soares, as one of the turtles swam by her and a group of her classmates.
She said her class spent several hours learning about turtles and working on posters for the competition, so the opportunity to see them in person was a real treat.
“They are so much bigger than they were in the pictures,” she said. “And pretty, too.”